Bureaucracy, potholes and politics hamper NATO’s defense efforts as the threat from Russia grows

As Russia invades Ukraine, Europe awakens to a new need to defend itself.

As Lithuanian children return to school this fall, some of their schools have been marked with new stickers: hundreds have been designated as bomb shelters.

In Finland, the defense forces are assembling modular military fortifications and practicing landing aircraft on highways.

Planners from the Baltic states in the north to Romania in the south are scrutinizing possible routes for military reinforcements, planning to reinforce bridges and add military transport functions to civilian airports, more than three dozen military and civilian officials in eight European countries told Reuters.

After 25 years of fighting conflicts abroad, the NATO alliance suddenly needs to show its enemy that it can respond to a threat anywhere on its borders, its top military adviser said.

And, according to him, he is not ready.

“Many, many nations — not just on the eastern flank, but many countries — lack infrastructure,” said Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, who heads NATO’s military committee.

The European Union has said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the need to adapt Europe’s transport infrastructure for dual civilian and defense use, and is accelerating funding for projects supporting military mobility.

Brussels has committed 1.6 billion euros ($2.48 billion) to military mobility projects across the bloc between 2021 and 2027. period, which is part of a larger €33.7 billion budget known as the Connecting Europe Facility to support major infrastructure projects.

Admiral Rob Bauer chairs the NATO Military Committee.(Reuters: Janis Laizans)

The military mobility project is coordinated by the Netherlands, but its budget was reduced in the negotiations from the initial proposal of the EU Commission – 6.5 billion.

Admiral Bauer called the amount available “almost nothing”, while Raul Bessems, the Dutch government’s top official in charge of military mobility, said it would “never be enough”.

In response, a European Commission spokesman told Reuters that a new military mobility plan unveiled in November “will help Europe’s armed forces respond better, faster and with sufficient scale” to crises at the EU’s external borders.

“We have made great progress in recent months, but let’s face it, obstacles remain,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

a simple concrete block bunker with a corrugated roof located in the forest
A bunker that was quickly built by the Finnish Defense Forces for practice purposes.(Reuters: Anne Kauranen)

Europe’s geopolitical situation has changed dramatically since NATO’s eastward expansion in 1991, with the fall of the Iron Curtain.

During the Cold War, Germany was the front line: the country where the battle between East and West would have taken place.

Today’s scenarios are more complex, planners say.

NATO’s territory has grown dramatically, meaning a longer border to protect, more room for potential Russian attacks, greater distances for military reinforcements to cover, and more potential attacks, including cyber attacks on infrastructure.

Military planners say that while the war has raised awareness, the lack of funding points to a larger concern: a European political mindset that Mr. Bessems says lags behind the reality of full-scale war on European soil and has yet to catch up. with the hybrid nature of modern warfare.

“Peacetime conditions apply. And that’s the whole problem,” he said.

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